By now, you are probably aware that there is an alleged sex scandal involving our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. I know, there’s been a few, but do keep up.
This is about Jennifer Arcuri.
Here’s the lowdown on Jen. She is a thirty-four-year-old American businesswoman, working in the tech sphere, who lived in London until the summer of 2018 and became close friends with Boris Johnson while he was London Mayor.
The part that has everyone annoyed (and formally investigating Boris) is this: she was given £126,000 of public money and privileged access to official trade trips abroad. Many officials believe that she was given preferential treatment because of her relationship with Boris; £10,000 on her fledgling business, then a further £14,000, then- despite the fact she had moved back to America – a further £100k or so from a program designed to help businesses based in the UK. She called Boris at the time “one of her best friends” and Boris was a regular late-night visitor to her flat in Shoreditch, claims substantiated by reports she supposedly confided in friends that they were having an affair.
So far, so fishy. But look closer, and there’s something more alarming happening here, in how she has been described in the media. She is not just a businesswoman, but a former model and pole dancer. Photos used of her are largely ones in bikinis. Naturally.
Jennifer – forced to defend herself on British TV this week, put it best: “The press, have made me this objectified, ex-model pole dancer.” For this reason, she refused to deny having an affair with Boris. Refusing to deny…that means yes, right? But, in her words; “I’m not going to be putting myself in a position for you to weaponise my answer.”
What Jennifer knows is that, whatever she says, she will forever just be labelled a blonde, pole-dancing, sexual being. Her credibility as a businesswoman is in question because of this and it may be enough to damn her, even if preferential treatment was given on the basis of merit alone.
The way she looks, who she is and the fact she is a woman matters, because I wonder how much we looked into Boris’s business dealings with men, who may also have called Boris “one of my best friends” or whose flats Boris may also have visited late at night. Probably not at all. Why then, was Arcuri singled out? Was she the only person ever to have been given preferential treatment by Boris? Or was it because she was the only one with blonde hair, big boobs and a pole in her flat?
I would like to think this has more to do with the reputation of our prime minister. We are living through an age where two of the world’s most powerful nations are run by floppy-haired-blonde men with a nasty habit of shagging where they shouldn’t. The reputation of both leaders proceeds them – lecherous, unfaithful – in a far more damning way than Arcuri’s. The fact she looks the way she does is not proof that she had an affair with Boris. It is actually Boris’s track record and proven infidelities that make that scenario far more likely.
Yet, even if that is the case, these revelations- false or otherwise – will harm Arcuri far more than they will harm Boris. If it is proven he was in any way responsible for the inappropriate allocation of funds, he may face legal consequences. But reputational damage? This guy is like Teflon; nothing sticks. Lied about money coming to the NHS over Brexit? Don’t sweat it. Bullied his way to PM? What a champ. Lied to the Queen, shut down parliament illegally? What’s the problem? Even his scores of sexual scandals haven’t made a dent. The recent allegation by journalist Charlotte Edwardes that he groped her under a table has already been all-but-forgotten: yesterday’s news. Yet a quick look at Charlotte’s twitter feed is all you need to prove that she is still receiving vile, hateful, sexually-fuelled messages.
This will happen to Arcuri. She will go down in history as the woman who most-probably shagged the British Prime Minister. She will not be known for her businesses, her brain, or even the supposed love of Shakespeare and classical literature that cemented her friendship with Boris, but for her sex life. She will not even be the businesswoman who had an alleged affair with Boris Johnson, but the former model and pole dancer who had an alleged affair with Boris Johnson. Because, doesn’t that have a much better ring to it?
Look what happened to Boris’s former flings Petronella Wyatt or Anna Fazackerley, both well-respected journalists who are now better known for their sexual relationships with our Prime Minister. Even Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, soon to be our Queen-in-all-but-name, will never truly be able to shake off the fact she had an affair with Prince Charles, the man who is now her husband. Charles, in contrast, will be known for at least a dozen other accomplishments, character traits or milestones, before the issue of his private life is ever raised.
Then, of course, there is the most famous political ‘other woman’ of all time; Monica Lewinsky. She was an intern at the White House when she had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton. When it was revealed, the fall-out – for Lewinsky – was so bad that she was kept on suicide watch. Though it nearly derailed Clinton’s presidency, he is now largely regarded as a respected former US president, devoted spouse of Hillary Clinton on her own presidential campaign trails and the star of cute gifs playing with balloons at her rallies. Lewinsky went into hiding and is only now emerging as an activist against bullying. For women like her, these relationships will be the defining factor of their Wikipedia entries or their obituaries. For these men, it may only prove a footnote.
This is problematic.
Men, it transpires, can be seen as the total sum of their achievements- transgressions and all – women can only be seen as the sum of the sexual scandals; all other successes are wiped away. They pale in significance to their private life. It is our inability to extricate the private from the public when it comes to women, but our continual willingness to do this to men, that I find unnerving.
Jennifer Arcuri described this best when she said, “Categorically, Boris had nothing to do with all my other achievements.” Yes, she may be absolving herself of any allegations of favouritism relating to the funding she has received. But I think it’s more than that. This is Arcuri attempting to remind us her own personal accomplishments should stand apart from her private life but, at the same time, knowing no one will ever, now, let that happen.